The Next Morning…
We awoke at 6am to a cock-a-doodle-doo. This gave us an early start. After a quick, traditional1 breakfast of galletas de arroz (rice cookies/cakes) and a few sips of water (we were very low) — we set out, eager to get back on track.
To get to the promised land2 of La Paloma, we would need to circumnavigate the laguna; frustrating, given we had been able to see La Paloma from the laguna. In total, the ride was ~70km: 10km back the way we’d come, 30km inland to the city of Rocha, then another 30km toward the coast, along the other side of laguna.
Backtracking sucks. With the taste of defeat still lingering, the bumps in the road seemed bumpier, the sand deeper3 and the hills higher.
Within an hour, we reached the crossroads where we’d made the ill-advised decision to proceed along the coast. We hung a right and were met by more dirt and a small hill. No problem. We charged up only to be met by another hill. Then another. Then another. It was official: these were rolling hills.
Rolling in the Dee-ee-eep
Don’t be fooled, they may be small and cute,4 but rolling hills suck.
Cat’s strategy: use the down hills to rest and gather energy for the impending uphills.
Kale’s strategy: hit the down hills like Vin Diesel in (the original) Fast and Furious and ride this momentum into the incline (shortening the uphill). Enjoy much needed rest at top of hill while waiting for Cat. Repeat.
By the tenth hill, our energy was beginning to fade and our canteens (and morale) were perilously low… Up and down, up and down… “Surely there can’t be too many more of these things,” we thought…
Our internal complaining (admittedly, external for Cat) was abruptly disrupted by the the angry barks of an approaching dog.
Dogs are a common hazard that any tour biker must face.
We had been chased a handful of times already, so the fear wasn’t particularly new. Uruguay has its share of stray dogs, but we have found that these guys are relatively mellow and seem unlikely to chase you — apparently savvy enough not to waste energy chasing something that may give it a kick. It’s the pampered-little-shit dogs (waiting behind open gates) that are the chasers. With their inflated sense of duty (“this is MY street”) and boundless energy (likely subsisting on more than just rice cookies), these are the dogs to watch out for.
Sidenote: Remember Junia who wanted to tour? Apparently she would yip and chase people up and down the street. Until someone gave her a kick. ?
On this occasion, our pursuer was a particularly irate shetland sheepdog — better known as a Lassie-dog. In distinctly un-Lassie fashion, upon hearing the crunching of our tires on the dirt road, it decided to bolt out of it’s (open) farm, go bananas, and nip at the heels of the trailing Cat.
Pro tip:5 when traveling in a group of cyclists, don’t be last. Dogs are pack creatures and will target stragglers. As our (former) roomie Max always says, “be the alpha dog.”
After a terrifying yet motivational6 chase, Lassie eased off. Not even another rice cookie could bring us back to life, and we began walking our bikes up the steeper hills.
~20kms down, 50+ to go.
As Cat heaved her bike to the top of a particularly nasty hill, a truck rolled by, stirring up the usual cloud of dust. While attempting to cover her face, Cat lost control of the bike, which flopped down into the brush alongside the road. The truck driver noticed, stopped and reversed back to where we were struggling to get the bike back on its wheels. His name was (Saint) Fernando and he was heading to Rocha. He offered us a ride and we gladly accepted. Our first hitchbike! And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Fernando dropped us off in the city of Rocha, where we quickly hydrated and fed ourselves. We were dirty, dusty, and smelly, so we didn’t complain when it began to rain. Plus, our bikes needed a shower anyway. While sitting in a restaurant (cerveza y papas fritas, por favor) waiting out the rain, we discussed next steps. The road to La Paloma was supposedly asphalt (hallelujah!), and a few beers later, we were ready to tackle the final leg.
The rain brought thunder and lightning, but it seemed to be moving away from us.7 By contrast, the ride from Rocha to La Paloma was (thankfully) uneventful.
We rolled into La Paloma tired and relieved. After a quick lap around town and a visit to the local panadería (bakery) for some treats, we ran into some other tour bikers, one coming from Sao Paulo, another from Columbia. Both wanted to cross Laguna de Rocha. We gave them our two cents, though the Columbian (and his little chihuahua riding up front) seemed unconvinced — especially the chihuahua…
Life with Jorge and Delia aka how we got soft.
We mentioned Jorge and Delia in the last post. Having met them in a brief serendipitous encounter in the US, we were excited to reunite in Uruguay. La Paloma, like most balnearios, has a huge influx of tourists (mostly Argentinians and Montevideans) after Christmas through February. J+D own two properties in La Paloma and, like many locals, they rent one of these houses during the summer season. We arrived slightly before peak season and J+D graciously offered us accommodation.
So we stayed a week 🙂 amo La Paloma!8
We chilled, blogged, shared meals (and practiced Spanish) with J+D, explored the beach, showered, cooked some more, planned our future route (more on this later), caught up with amigos, and watched9 season one of Orphan Black.
We also explored the surrounding balnearios…
After our Laguna Rocha disaster experience, we knew not to mess with sand. Thus, we decided we would leave our bikes in La Paloma and hitchhike the 50km up the coast to check out one of Uruguay’s most famous places: Cabo Polonio.
Cabo Polonio has no roads leading to it and is located about 7km from the main highway.10 It is accessible via foot (surely a brutal journey over sand dunes) or by 4×4 vehicles. The town has no electricity or running water; wind power and a few generators are used to power some of the hostels, restaurants, and grocery store (yes, singular). There is a lighthouse that gets power from the national grid. Residents (~90 year-round) obtain water from nearby wells or by collecting rain water.
We set out early on foot with our tent, sleeping bags, a bit of food, and clothes for two days. Three rides11 and a few hours later, we found ourselves at the entrance of Parque Nacional de Cabo Polonio, the national park that surrounds the secluded balneario.
Cabo Polonio was out of this world… Just ask the colony of sea lions that have made the rocky peninsula their home.12
After chatting with some knowledgeable Aussie sheilas, we learned that camping is prohibited throughout Cabo Polonio and the surrounding park. Hmmm… this explained why we hadn’t see any tents.
We followed up by asking a local about camping policies and received the same answer, along with a wink-wink ;). With this glimmer of hope, we walked around the town and searched for an inconspicuous spot… When nothing looked promising,13 we explored Plan B options: hostel (they looked fine enough, but we heard they were expensive) or home (aka, La Paloma).
We caught the last 4×4 out of Cabo Polonio, hopped on the bus to La Paloma, had a beer, and passed out.
We’re 1.5 months into our trip and nearing Brazil. With almost four hundred kilometers under our belts, we decided to map out the next phase of our journey.
- La Paloma → Montevideo. Return to Montevideo, but via the rural interior (through Aigua, Minas)… And yes, we know that straying from the coast probably means more hills.
- Montevideo → Colonia del Sacramento. Head up the Rio de Plata up to the Portuguese-influenced town.
- Colonia del Sacramento → Buenos Aires. Jump on a ferry and cross the river into Argentina, saying goodbye to Uruguay (for now).
- Buenos Aires → Bariloche. Train, bike, bus — whatever we need to do to get down south ASAP. Why the rush? See #5.
- Bariloche → Ushuaia14 We will attempt to bike the rugged Carretera Austral through beautiful Patagonia down to Ushuaia aka the end of the world.
It’s been an amazing week hanging out in La Paloma, but we are geared up and ready to get back on our bikes and hit the road first thing tomorrow.
Your friends of the route and the bicycle*
*Credit to Fede for our new beloved pseudonym 🙂